A Letter To Washington State: Why Are Some Adoptees More Deserving Than Others?

When I found out my adoptee peeps in Washington State are facing disclosure veto legislation, my heart sank. Several years ago when a similar bill passed in Illinois, supporters of clean legislation predicted that it would be held up as a dubious “standard” for adoptee birth certificate access. Sadly, we were correct. You can read about what we faced with the Illinois legislation and my own personal experience with the suckitude that is Illinois’ veto-happy law.

The job of a clean adoptee rights advocate is never done. Not only do you have to face strident opponents, disinterested legislators, and nosy reporters, but you also have to fight your own team when people turn deformer and support bills that will leave some adoptees behind.

What the hell is so hard to understand, people? Don’t support bad bills. We can restore birth certificate access to ALL adoptees if you get off your asses and stop allowing yourselves to be herded like cows into the second-class-citizen barn.

This is the letter I sent to Washington State’s legislators. Whom, I might add, failed to respond save for two lone auto-responder bots – not even a “thank you for your message” from a staffer. So much for common courtesy. I guess bastards get ignored as usual, especially if you’re not a constituent. Hey, left-behind adoptees – feeling disenfranchised much?

You can read more about what’s going down in Washington State:

Dear Washington Senators and Representatives,

I understand you are considering an adoptee rights bill, SB 5118 / HB 1525, which contains a “contact veto” clause allowing birth mothers to deny adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Before you rush to pass such a bill, I hope you will consider the inequality of restoring access to some adoptees at the expense of others.

I am an Illinois adoptee and have been denied my birth certificate because my birth mother signed the veto in this state. I am the face of that supposedly small percentage of adoptees who will be permanently denied birth certificate access under this proposed legislation.

Rep. Orwall explains the need to favor the many over the few: “How sad it would be for some adoptees to not obtain this information while a birth parent may still be alive.”



What about those adoptees left behind by veto legislation? Why isn’t it sad that we cannot obtain our information as well – and in fact are permanently barred from it?



What makes some adoptees more deserving than others?

I was involved in the attempts to halt a similar bill that ended up passing here in Illinois. I have heard the arguments in favor of compromise legislation before: “Well, at least this will help the majority of adoptees.” The assumption is that those vetoes will be such a small percentage it won’t matter.

But the reality is that no state that has ever enacted veto legislation has gone back for those left behind. There’s no sunset clause, no mechanism by which these adoptees will later have their birth certificate access restored.

Rep. Orwall is worried that birth families may die before adoptees have a chance to find them. But this isn’t about search and reunion. It is about access to a critical piece of identity: our original birth certificates.

With increasing security in this post 9/11 world, many adoptees are discovering that their adoption paperwork alone isn’t good enough. Discrepancies in the paperwork, i’s not dotted or t’s not crossed, and adult adoptees suddenly find they are unable to obtain driver’s licenses, passports, and other critical documents.

I had a friend walked out of the DMV because she presented her amended birth certificate. She was told to bring the original – which, being adopted in a closed-records state, she has no way to obtain.

Veto legislation consigns some adoptees to this oblivion of non-access. They have no recourse, no way to obtain proof of their own identities. They are permanently banned.

The matter of birth mother privacy is irrelevant. My birth mother relinquished all rights to me when I was given up for adoption. Why does a stranger now have the ability to come back years later and deny me access to my own birth certificate? Not every adoptee who wants a birth certificate is looking to search. Search is a matter of personal choice and has no bearing on the civil right to obtain one’s documentation of birth.

The only equitable solution is to restore to ALL adoptees the same equal access to original birth certificates as non-adoptees. This has been successfully done in Maine, where everyone follows the same procedure, adopted or not. Everyone pays the same basic fee. No one is left behind.

Maine has suffered none of the dire consequences so drastically described by opponents of original birth certificate access. Adoptees in Maine can walk into the courthouse, heads held high, and be treated the same as everyone else. That is all we want. If Maine, why not Washington?

I invite you to view Maine’s legislation here:

http://www.adopteerightscoalition.com/2011/07/adoptee-rights-sample-legislation.html

It’s no less sad or unfair for vetoed adoptees to be denied birth certificate access than it is for those whose birth families age and die while legislation is being considered.

Because that “small percentage” so casually dismissed? Those are real people like me. We’re not statistics. We exist. And we deserve the same equal rights, too.

Please vote no on SB 5118 / HB 1525.

Sincerely,

Triona Guidry

How Conditional Birth Certificate Access Rewards “Good Adoptees” And Punishes Bad Ones

In her classic book Lost And Found: The Adoption Experience, renowned adoption expert and adoptee BJ Lifton describes how adoptees are classified, by the adoption industry and by society, as Good Adoptees and Bad Adoptees.

“We have seen that adoptees played the Adoption Game in various ways… Some were aware that they were trying to be the Good Adoptee, while it seemed to others, in retrospect, that they were always trying to be the Bad Adoptee… The Good Adoptee was placid, obedient, didn’t ask too many questions, was sensitive to his parents’ need to make believe he wasn’t adopted. The Bad Adoptee was rebellious and constantly acting out at home and in school.”

Here is how she describes the Adoption Game. She quotes author R. D. Laing in his book Knots:

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.”

I am an advocate for clean adoptee access laws – laws that restore the rights of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates in the same manner and for the same modest fee as non-adopted adults. The reason I refuse to accept compromises like passive registries, confidential intermediaries, and mandatory counseling is because conditional access is specifically designed to reward Good Adoptees while punishing bad ones.

Here’s how the game works. Good Adoptees aren’t supposed to search for their origins because doing so questions (and threatens) the Great And Powerful Adoption Industry. So the way you weed out Good Adoptees from Bad Adoptees is to find out which ones want to search badly enough to defy that industry – and then punish them when they do.

Adult adoptee access is in its naissance in many states. As a result, adoptees who are early adopters (ha!) of their state’s access procedures pay the price for those who follow. There are no mechanisms to redress this injustice or to go back for those adoptees who had the misfortune of being their state’s beta-testers.

The Bad Adoptees who prove their disloyalty by being too eager for their information get the dregs of access: whatever the adoption industry feels like trying to shoehorn into whatever conditional crap legislation they come up with.

This is a disgusting and evil mindgame that has gone largely ignored in adoption reform circles, just as left-behind adoptees go largely ignored by those who either don’t realize or don’t care about clean access. What boggles my mind is that some people (deformers) are perfectly willing to continue to play this game as long as they get to reap the rewards of being the Good Adoptees.

This insidious industry strategy pits adoptees against one another, and is a cause of the infighting and backstabbing we see in adoption reform. You have one set of people who want to pass legislation that’s almost-but-not-quite-good-enough-we’ll-fix-it-later, and people like me who insist upon holding out for a clean law each and every time, even if it means yanking bills if they become tainted.

As an adoption reformer you typically don’t end up on the clean-law-or-bust side unless you’ve had personal experience with the system in its most broken form. Or, in other words, if you’re a Bad Adoptee. So once again, the adoption industry turns us against one another by pitting conditional-legislation advocates, the Good Adoptees, against the clean-law advocates, the Bad Adoptees. We might as well have team t-shirts.

(You could also say that the same process turns mothers into Bad Birth Mommies and fathers into Bad Baby Daddies – at least those who question the adoption industry or try to assert their rights within it.)

Great And Powerful Adoption Industry, this is Dorothy on speakerphone. I call shenanigans on your bullshit.

See, I’m already labeled as a Bad Adoptee, so I can get away with this. I was an early adopter of Illinois’ conditional access. I paid thousands of dollars and spent over a decade of my life attempting to assert my rights using the legal procedures provided to adoptees in this state. I played by the rules of the game and I lost, my first mother lost, other adoptees and mothers who went through that system lost. Today adoptees can get what I strove for, but I can’t because the system that was in place when I tried prevents me from doing so. I shone a spotlight on the flaws in Illinois’ system by forcing them open their procedures to adoptees born in Illinois but adopted out of state. Mine was the first Illinois Confidential Intermediary case of an adopted-out-of-state Illinois adoptee.

(more on my story here and here)

And I was punished, like other Bad Adoptees in this state and elsewhere, because by asserting my rights I branded myself a troublemaker, a bad seed, a naughty girl trying to buck the system.

This is ancient thinking about the psychology of adoptees which is completely outdated and yet still guides legislative decisions about adoptee access. It’s why adult adoptees are constantly referred to as “adopted children”, even (especially!) in legislative session. If an adoptee speaks out, shut ’em down. If a bastard tries to act like a human being, put them in their place.

When you support conditional legislation, you support this. You aid and abet an industry which doesn’t care one whit for you, and will turn on you as quickly as a rabid dog. And you assist that industry in dehumanizing your fellow adoptees and first mothers/fathers.

(Comments welcome but moderated against spambots and trolls. Bear in mind if all you’re trying to do is convince me why conditional legislation works, don’t bother. After my own personal experience I refuse to support anything less than clean legislation.)

I’m Not Going To Day For Adoptee Rights Chicago 2012 – But I’m Still An Angry Adoptee

I’m not going to Day For Adoptee Rights in Chicago this year. That may strike some as strange. I’ve been a voice for Illinois adoptees for years now, so people are expecting me to be there. I’ve gotten a few emails from a few people asking my plans, so I thought I’d explain why I’m not going.

Although there has been controversy about DAR in the past, my reasons for not attending are solely personal and have absolutely nothing to do with that. I’m not going to address past issues since I wasn’t involved then and really don’t want to be now. This is about me and where I am on adoptee rights.

There are lots of logical reasons I should go. The little voice in my head keeps reminding me that it’s right here in Chicago for pity’s sake – I live out in the sticks but it’s still only a couple of hours away. There are lots of people I’d like to meet in person. There are a handful of people I REALLY want to meet in person and am kicking myself over missing the opportunity.

I keep reminding myself that I should be there to stand up for left-behind adoptees, in Illinois and elsewhere. I should be there to remind the Illinois politicians that we’re not done with adoptee rights in this state, and to tell other states not to do it this way. I should be there to warn everybody to stay the hell away from the Illinois CI program. I should be there to do my part for adoptee rights.

But I’m not going to, and the big reason is…

Fear.

This has been a year of major personal crises for me. I suffer from depression and anxiety at the best of times, which these are not. I’m not feeling much like marching off waving the Class Bastard banner at the moment.

There are other reasons. It’s close to one of my kids’ birthdays, and I’ve already had the experience of worrying about adoption crap through one of my kids’ birthdays. I’m not going to do that again. And I have things that I should be doing here, although truth be told I could get around that if I tried.

The thing is, being an adoption reform activist – a volunteer of any kind – is a sucky deal. You have to be in a good place in your head to deal with what comes at you, especially if you are advocating from an unpopular position – in my case, that of being a left-behind adoptee. Everybody’s against you: politicians, lobbyists, fellow activists, the general public. You have to explain your position, over and over, with a polite smile and a stack of literature, while they spout every goddamn stereotype until you want to strangle them.

I am not in the mood at the moment to listen while people repeat the myths about birth parent privacy, or refer to adult adoptees as “children”. I am not in the mood to put up with jubilation over Illinois adoptees getting their birth certificates because not all of us are. I don’t want to talk to legislators. I don’t want to talk to reporters. I don’t want to be the token left-behind Illinois adoptee in every conversation.

And then there are the people who should be on your side, but who for some bizarre reason have decided to compromise away all sense of self-worth, not to mention bona fide civil rights. I’m not in the mood to be polite to deformers, and I know some will be there – people who supported the compromise bill in Illinois, people who supported compromise bills elsewhere. I am not sure I could keep my mouth shut in their presence because I think it is absolutely abhorrent to barter away somebody else’s OBC access just so you can get your hands on yours.

I’m sure people who are less than fond of me are rubbing their hands with glee, seeing this as a capitulation on my part. Go right ahead, if it makes you feel better. This does not, by any means, indicate that I am done with adoptee rights. On the contrary, I’m continuing to advocate for full and equal rights for ALL adult adoptees in ALL states and for our internationally adopted peers, as well as for the rights of first parents and families.

I intend to remain an angry adoptee with a blog, which is sort of like a madman with a box only not as much fun.

One of the ways I am contributing to the cause is by writing. I’m a freelance writer by trade so it’s a good fit. If you have a publication, blog, or site and want me to write for it, let me know. You can see my professional writing clips here – most of my adoption-related stuff is not on that list but it will give you an idea. However, bear in mind that I am a GDI (god damn independent) with a lot of loudmouth left-behind-bastard opinions about adoption that I don’t censor. Also, I am not affiliated with, nor will I affiliate with, any particular adoption reform organization. Freelancer to the core, that’s me. If that sounds good to you, great. If not, then I suppose I don’t need to worry about writing for you.

Now, if you want to see what I’m really up to, come on over to my fantasyworld blog and we can talk science fiction geekiness until our little fandom hearts explode. After all, who wants to deal with legislators when you can read the latest Pern novel and the Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover comic?

As for my next moves in the adoption reform world, I’ll leave my detractors to wonder what they may be…

I Am Adopted. I Am Shame.

I hate holidays. I get this innate, overwhelming knowledge that somewhere nearby, in this very city, my birth relatives are gathering for tradition and celebration. Except me, of course, since I’m not supposed to exist.
Except I KNOW. I can feel it in my blood, like a rising tide. I should be with them. Blood calls to blood. But I’m not, and even if I knew their names or where they were, they wouldn’t welcome me.
I’m a secret.
I am shame.
I’m a bastard.
My distant Irish ancestors weep. They want to know why I am severed. I have no answers. I’m not allowed to have answers.
My children ask me questions. I have no answers. They’re not allowed to have answers, either.
My mother’s brief contact revealed little about my life.
It was a mistake.
I’m a mistake.
I don’t exist.
My mother doesn’t want me to exist.
If I did know who and where my birth family was, and I was stupid enough to go there, they could easily have me arrested. My mother filed denial of contact with the state, criminalizing me for wanting my original birth certificate. Never mind that I have zero way to identify her. Never mind that the incompetent Illinois CI program gave her my identifying info without my consent. She knows exactly who and where I am yet I still have nothing.
I am a criminal for wanting to know my origins.
I am a criminal for continuing to want to know my origins after being told to shut up and go away.
I am a criminal for publicly disagreeing with adoption policies and practices.
I am a criminal for standing up for myself.
Meanwhile, everyone’s talking about all the lucky Illinois adoptees who are getting their birth certificates. Oh, except those who were denied. And those from certain adoption agencies who are essentially filling in the blanks with, “We don’t feel like telling you.” And those whose information was never recorded, was recorded in error, was falsified, was destroyed, is mysterously “missing,” or exists in another state or country. Hmmmm. That seems like a lot of exceptions for a law that gave “all” Illinois adoptees their rights.
I am a pariah for not sacrificing myself so others can have access.
I am a pariah for standing up for left-behind adoptees.
I am a pariah for not accepting the status quo.
I am a pariah for insisting upon equal rights for everyone.
I hope my mother is reading this. I hope the Illinois politicians are reading this. I hope every single person who is getting their Illinois OBC is reading this. I hope every last one of you who has ever supported a conditional law is reading this.
And I hope all my fellow nonexistent denied bastards and our counterparts, those uppity hell-raising first mothers, are reading this.
If we are shame… then so are the people who shame us.

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

73adoptee Returns! But No One’s Coming Back For Left-Behind Illinois Adoptees

I’ve been gone a while. Sometimes real life intrudes, and sometimes it’s a welcome intrusion. I discovered the hard way that it’s all too easy to let adoption and adoption reform take over your life. When you’re adopted it’s adoption 24/7 anyway without concentrating on it.
So I took a break, from a lot of things. I even took a sabbatical from work, which turned into a radical change in my career. Which is good, because it gives me more time to pursue my dream of writing fiction. But I also had to decide if it was going to give me more time to dedicate to adoption reform. And that got me thinking about what I’ve learned in the past few years about reform: what works, what doesn’t work, and what part I want to play in it.
Because, let’s face it, the current situation sucks like an industrial fan. Depending on where and when you’re born you either have full access, no access, or some kind of convoluted pseudo-access that no one understands, least of all the people creating and implementing the legislation that supports it.

And then there’s Illinois. Yeah, I’ve been quiet because of Illinois. If I hear one more person cheering November 15, 2011 as some kind of liberation day for adoptees of the great State of Illinois, I will go stark raving John-Crichton-on-Farscape crazy. Search my blog on keyword Illinois or read this about the new law for just some of the reasons why.

Illinois is not open. Illinois is sort-of open to adoptees who unwittingly end up playing roulette with their own rights. Some will win. Some will inevitably lose.
I’m on the losing team, so I know how it feels. Everybody’s celebrating and they’ve forgotten you. Or, if they remember, it’s to slap you on the back and say, “better luck next time” before they go off to congratulate the winners. But adoption isn’t football. There’s only one game, the Adoption Game, and if you make a mistake you don’t get a do-over. I remain disgruntled with pretty much everybody across the adoption spectrum: the bureaucrats who pat me on the head; the politicians who care more about their own power than their responsibility to help others; the deformers who think compromise is victory.
Because no one is coming back for the left-behinds. Not when the legislators, the news media, and the general public all think that adoptees already have access. We don’t, not all of us, but that message has been lost amidst the celebrations.
* * *
Over the past few years I’ve learned some important lessons about adoption reform. Here’s what works: sharing our voices, speaking out, contacting our legislators, educating the general public. Here’s what doesn’t: indolence, infighting, lethargy, backstabbing. Yes, it’s harder to convince The Powers That Be to grant access for all. But it’s the right thing to do.
I debated long and hard as to whether or not I wanted to continue adoption reform at all. It’s not what you’d call “fun.” It involves public speaking, private introspection, misjudgments from all sides, stress, and lack of personal life. You become an involuntary spokesperson for all of adopteekind (and, if you’re a transracial adoptee, often for your entire race as well). Everything is difficult because not only are you trying to write letters and convince lawmakers and wrap your head around legislation, you’re reminded EVERY SINGLE MOMENT of your own adoption baggage because it’s why you’re doing this in the first place.
Here’s what I’ve decided. I’ve revamped 73adoptee (come check out the redesign) and I’ll be posting here on an infrequent basis, plus more often on Twitter as @73adoptee. I’m continuing to advocate for adoptee rights: access for ALL adult adoptees, equal to that of the non-adopted: e.g. original birth certificate access with no strings attached.
But here’s what I’m not doing.
  1. Spending all my time on adoption. I have other things to do with my life, and I am heartily sick of focusing on adoption. I can’t even stand the word anymore. It’s ridiculous that I have to spend this much energy and effort for access to my own identity.
  2. Posting frequently to 73adoptee. See above. I’m around but I’m probably not going to post very often simply because I am busy.
  3. Arguing over semantics. Don’t come to me with any more partial pseudo-access schemes. I will not support them and I really don’t want to discuss them. It’s a waste of time and effort better spent toward the goal of truly equal rights.
  4. Helping with searches. I just don’t have time. There are plenty of resources available with a simple Web search. Just don’t jump right into schemes like confidential intermediaries without knowing what you may be in for. Trust me on that one.
  5. Participating in reform organizations. Some work, some don’t, but I need to strike out on my own, for many of the same reasons that I quit working in Corporate America to become a freelancer. I’m just too GDI (god damn independent), and volunteerism can become a total time-suck as I’m sure many of you know. I may choose to support bills but ONLY if they are clean and ONLY if they will be yanked if they are butchered in session. But any support will be personal and not affiliated with any organizations.
  6. Analyzing reform legislation. I’m not going to write reviews of which bills are good or not, there are other bloggers doing that (and kudos to them because it’s incredibly time-consuming). Doubtless I’ll comment as the desire (read: irritation level) arises but you shouldn’t consider 73adoptee a clearinghouse for info on all reform efforts everywhere.
Basically, 73adoptee is a place for me to rant about the things in adoption that piss me off. (Yeah, it’s a long list.) I’m not particularly concerned that my opinions are unpopular in some circles. You see, when you are at the very bottom there’s nowhere to go but up. Attempting to reduce adult adoptees to second-class citizens results in people like me, who have nothing else left to lose. What are you going to do, take away my birth certificate or convince my first mother to deny contact? Oops, sorry, already done.
I may have taken a break but I’m not finished with you, adoption. You’ve still got my identity and I want it back.

Illinois HB 5428: Toxic To Adoptee Rights, Makes It A Crime To Search

Please write to these senators and tell them to oppose IL HB 5428. And be sure to sign our Change.org petition!

You can find the bill status for Illinois HB 5428 here and the full text here. I also encourage you to join Adoption Reform Illinois, a coalition of triad members and others seeking to defeat bills like this and introduce clean legislation to Illinois. On our web site you will find contact information for the Senate sponsors and Assignments committee, and our position paper, Why ARI Opposes HB 5428 (pdf).

I haven’t blogged much lately because I’ve been busy fighting IL HB 5428, a new-bill-same-as-the-old-bill which kicks Illinois adoptees when they’re down. This bill, introduced by legislator and token adoptee Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, is utterly toxic, even more so than most compromise legislation. (Please read this if you think compromise legislation is okay and “baby steps are needed” to achieve adoption reform.)
First, there is the way IL HB 5428 is being slipped under the radar. After the defeat the adoption reform community handed the similar IL HB 4623 in 2008, Feigenholtz must have realized she would never be able to pass one of her odious initiatives if anyone knew about it. So this thing has been silent but deadly. It has already been fast-tracked through a House vote of approval, and is currently in the Senate’s Assignments committee.
Next, there is the unprecedented level of bureaucracy this bill creates — because the more bureaucracy, the more opportunities to charge you for your own information. HB 5428 introduces no less than five levels of disclosure veto (mislabeled “preferences”), ranging from “access if your Mommy approves” all the way down to “F*** you.” It goes so far as to mandate modification of vital records, permanently erasing adoptee identities. Adoptees who have already been shafted by disclosure veto remain screwed.
Feigenholtz is touting this to the media as being good for adoptees, while snickering behind our backs with dollar signs in her eyes. DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIES. This bill does NOT grant birth certificate access. It cements profiteering at the expense of adult adoptees.
IL HB 5428 puts the very same people who run Illinois’ mismanaged registry and CI program on the council overseeing it. This makes the Midwest Adoption Center (MAC), the sole-source no-bid entity contracted to perform these services in Illinois, accountable to no one but themselves. This council is filled with entities who profit from access to adoption records. AAC’s representative (Melisha Mitchell aka Allen) is a paid searcher, a conflict of interest. No adoption reform groups are represented.
When it comes to MAC, we are talking about the same people who consider the confidentiality of their policies and procedures more important than protecting the identities of participants. I speak from experience when I say I wouldn’t trust these people to clean up radioactive sewage — which is what HB 5428 is.
The bill is primarily a money grab for MAC and the CI program. HB 5428 calls for state money to advertise the program. It’s all about profit at a time when our state can’t even pay its own bills. And it’s all about obscurity at a time when the citizens of Illinois are trying to shine some light on the corrupt politics in this state.
And if that’s not bad enough…
IL HB 5428 would make it a CRIME to pursue your own search via non-identifying information (damages plus $10,000 minimum punitive fine). From the bill text:

Any person who learns a sought-after relative’s identity, directly or indirectly, through the use of procedures provided in this Section and who improperly discloses information identifying the sought-after relative shall be liable to the sought-after relative for actual damages plus minimum punitive damages of $10,000.

Yes, you heard that right. If you’re not adopted, it’s called genealogy. But if you are adopted, under IL HB 5428 you will be penalized if you attempt to search on your own. This is so that all Illinois adoptees and their birth families will be forced through the jaws of the intermediary program’s profit-making machine.
Oh, and at the same time they hold themselves unaccountable for any mistakes they may make while meddling in your business, such as the way they disclosed my identifying information to my birth family without my consent. CIs who make mistakes keep their jobs and are charged a modest penalty which is paid to DCFS, not the injured party:

The Department shall fine any confidential intermediary who improperly discloses confidential information in violation of item (1) or (2) of this subsection (k) an amount up to $2,000 per improper disclosure. This fine does not affect civil liability under item (2) of this subsection (k). The Department shall deposit all fines and penalties collected under this Section into the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Fund.

Here’s a barf bag. I’ll wait while you hurl.
Bastardette has posted part 1 of what is sure to be a rousing series on Sneaky Sara and her machinations. I strongly encourage you to read it, and to write to Illinois senators to put a stop to this toxic bill.

Compromising On Adoptee Access? The Foot You Shoot May Be Your Own

I wrote this as a response to the news that Missouri has enacted a compromise bill for adult adoptee original birth certificate (OBC) access. I really wish people would understand that compromise legislation is a ploy to get us to shut up and go away. You never know if you yourself may be the one vetoed out of your own rights.
If you are thinking of supporting a bill, please understand what these compromises actually mean. Insist upon clean bills, every time, no exceptions.
What I said was:
While I appreciate all the hard work those involved have done to enact this bill [in Missouri], baby steps and compromises are not a fair solution. So-called “disclosure vetoes” such as the one in this new MO law require adoptees to get approval from their birth mothers before they can have their original birth certificates. Disclosure vetoes are sometimes phrased as “contact preferences”, but if it is binding on adoptees and prevents them from accessing their OBCs, it’s a veto.
This is unequal and a blow to the civil rights of adoptees. No one else needs such approval. The fact is that “baby steps” end up stopping at step one. No state that has enacted compromise legislation like this has ever revisited it. The legislators consider it a done deal and don’t want to revisit. Speaking from experience, a system like this does NOT work. The people typically in charge of it are often political allies of those who enact it. In other words, it’s a way to make money off adoptees, again. For example in Illinois the people who run the program are political allies of the legislator who enacted it, and make six figure salaries off babysitting adoptees and their birth families.
Compromise legislation is neither right nor fair. ALL citizens, regardless of adoptive status, deserve the same equal treatment. That means ALL adult adoptees should be able to access their original birth certificates in the same manner, and for the same reasonable fees, as everyone else.
Forgive me but this strikes close to home. I am an adult adoptee who has been denied her original birth certificate because of Illinois’ disclosure veto. I personally could not look at myself in the mirror if I got my OBC via a law that meant the adoptees in front of or behind me were unable to get theirs. We must all stand together and insist upon our civil rights instead of falling for cleverly-worded “solutions”. This is a political gimmick to lure you into thinking you are restoring your rights when you are really shooting yourself (and others) in the foot. Please think about and understand what compromise legislation means. It means you get your information at someone else’s expense. It means you yourself could very easily be the one left behind. You won’t know until you try to access your OBC and discover that you’re one of the “small percentage” that got bit by a veto.
It is perfectly possible to enact clean legislation. Other states like Maine have done it. You have to take the higher ground, insist on clean bills, and kill the bill if it is amended with a disclosure veto. South Dakota just went through that and I admire the South Dakota SEAL group for vowing to kill the bill they worked so hard for if it was compromised.
For every state that enacts a compromise, it makes it that much more difficult to enact clean legislation elsewhere. This is why we have not made more progress in opening records, because people are willing to fall for these compromises. Working together is paramount. Access must be equal, across the board. I have no problem with true contact preferences, those that allow birth families to state their preference while still allowing the adoptee to obtain his/her OBC (versus a binding veto, whatever it might be called). The notion that such preferences must be binding assumes that all adoptees are potential stalkers, which is demeaning and discriminatory. There is a vast difference between search/reunion and the right to one’s identity. The former is a decision that families must make among themselves. The latter should be a basic right of all human beings. Missouri’s bill is a tragedy for those who will be left behind.
One thing I would like to mention is that I do actually have a problem with true contact preferences (those that are not binding on the adoptee). Namely, that is that it is too easy for what begins as a “preference” to become a binding veto. Politicians are confused as to the difference between a contact preference and a disclosure veto. See the recent South Dakota decision on HB 1223 for an example of that. But I would rather see an otherwise clean bill pass with a nonbinding preference than a binding veto.

Think Before You Support Compromise Adoption Reform Bills

The new legislative session is upon us, and I encourage you to think long and hard before throwing your support behind a bill just because it claims “adoption records access”.

Whenever there’s word of a new records access bill, members of the adoption community scramble to support it amid cries of “Write the legislators!” and “Write the newspapers!” But not all bills are created equal. Some are wonderful, shining examples of clean legislation, like Maine, for example. Others are travesties and need to die before they suck the life out of adult adoptee and birth parent rights.
A clean records access bill is one in which adult adoptees (and birth mothers too!) have the same access to original, unaltered birth certificates as people not touched by adoption. Compromises take many forms but may include:
  • A disclosure veto, which allows a birth parent to prevent an adult adoptee’s access to his or her birth certificate. (On the other hand, a contact preference is just that, a preference. It does not legally deny access to the adult adoptee’s birth certificate.)
  • A mandatory intermediary, which requires adult adoptees and birth parents to submit to third-party mediation even if all they want is information and not contact.
  • Sandwich bills, in which adult adoptees born before or after certain dates have access, while others do not.
There are several bills in discussion right now, including New Jersey and Missouri. It’s sad that people have invested effort in these bills because they are so compromised, they will do more harm than good. They’re based on the myths that “baby steps” are necessary to adoption reform, that compromise legislation can be revisited, that nothing else will work in XYZ state, that “almost good enough” is good enough. None of this is true. The best way–the ONLY way–to restore equal rights to adult adoptees and birth mothers is to enact clean legislation from the start.
Here are some truths about compromise legislation:
  • Baby steps are not needed to achieve clean original birth certificate access. It’s been done in Maine. It’s been done in Oregon. IT CAN HAPPEN. But you have to work at it, and if your nice clean bill gets lobotomized, you have to take the higher ground, kill it and start again.
  • Look to your left. Look to your right. One of your brethren in adoption is going to be left behind if you compromise. Ask yourself if you actually want to support a bill that means getting your information at the expense of someone else. And remember, that someone else could easily be you.
  • NOT ONE STATE that has enacted compromise legislation has EVER changed it later to clean birth certificate access. Once you have the compromise you are stuck with it. The politicians consider it a done deal and won’t revisit it. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot for nothing.
  • Compromises in one state bleed over onto others. Legislators ask, if it works for this other state, why shouldn’t we do it that way? It makes it harder to enact clean legislation elsewhere.
  • There are politicians and lobbyists who want you to compromise because it’s a way for them to pay lip service to reform while not actually doing anything. In other words, it’s a ploy to get us to be good little bastards and birth mommies and go away. Post-adoption services exist to make money, period. They do not exist to help you. They do not exist to restore your civil rights. Don’t buy into the rhetoric. Demand clean legislation, each and every time.
  • Adoption records access is not about medical history, search and reunion or anything else. It is about identity. It is about the right to be treated equally. Don’t get caught up in the arguments. Take it back to basics and stay focused.
What to look for in a bad bill:
  • Disclosure vetoes, mandatory intermediaries, sandwiches.
  • Convoluted language or anything that says, “we’ll figure out how to do this later”. If you don’t understand it, it’s probably not clean.
  • Sometimes shell bills are introduced that are replaced at the last minute by compromise bills that no one sees before the committee vote, like the fast one they pulled with Illinois HB 4623 in 2008.
So when you see there’s a new bill up for discussion, for heaven’s sake research it before you rush to support it. Read the bill for yourself. Ask your friends in the adoption community. Find out about the legislative sponsors. Use your head and your common sense. Don’t be a knee-jerk supporter just because it says “records access” on the tin.
For more on compromise legislation:

Birth Mothers Who Want Privacy Should Support Open Adoption Records

I mentioned this previously in my blog post on “Adoption BEWareness Month Part II” as well as on OSoloMama’s blog, and I think it warrants a post of its own. What I said was:

[I]f women don’t want the offspring they gave up for adoption to contact them, then they ought to support open adoption records. Because as it stands in closed records states, the only way for adoptees to obtain info is to contact their birth mothers.

The biggest argument against restoring original birth certificate access to adoptees is that we are all potential stalkers out to harass our birth mothers. Putting aside how ridiculous that is, in reality, most birth mothers desire contact, and most adoptees just want some information. The way sealed records operate, our only choice is to contact our mothers for that information.
I posit that original birth certificate access actually HELPS that small percentage of mothers who desire privacy.
My own is a case in point. When I began searching, it wasn’t with a mind to find my mother. Granted, I had a few hazy daydreams of meeting her over coffee, but my real goal was finding out about myself: how my adoption was arranged, what my birth name is, what my ethnic heritage is, where I fit in a long line of ancestors. And I spent a decade doing everything I possibly could to find out without contacting my birth mother. I did my own research. I asked search angels for help. I hired a private investigator. I tried both the state in which I was born and the state in which I was adopted, and as you all know got shuttled between them like the unwanted ball in a game of hot potato. Tried to use the Illinois Confidential Intermediary system, failed, hired a lawyer, tried again, succeeded for certain definitions of “succeed”, made brief contact with my birth mother, was denied further contact, and wound up exactly where I started… except for a few extra tidbits of vague information, some hefty bills to be paid, and a signed denial of contact form from my birth mother which denies me access to the very records I originally sought.
Score: adoption industry, several kazillion; Triona and her family, zero.
Now, if I had access to my original birth certificate, in the same manner as the non-adopted, I could have spent half an hour and $15 at the courthouse to obtain what took me thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, and a lifetime of pain to attempt to obtain. And I wouldn’t have had to contact my birth mother at all.
Compromise legislation and post-adoption “services”, however kindly (or unkindly) meant, merely pays lip service to records access. They have nothing to do with the privacy of anyone except the adoptive parents, and those agencies and individuals who are attempting to hide the misdeeds of adoptions past. Why else are the Illinois intermediary program’s procedures more confidential than my own private data? Why else are the original birth certificates of adoptees impounded, not upon relinquishment, but upon finalization of the adoption? Why else are adoptive parents often given paperwork that names the birth mother?
Those scant few birth mothers who want privacy should support original birth certificate access. Because the way the system is rigged in closed-records states, the ONLY state-sanctioned way for an adoptee to obtain information is to contact our birth mothers, whether we want to or not.

Adoption Records Secrecy Breeds Mistakes

I doubt few people in the adoption reform community are surprised to hear that Catholic Charities, that bastion of super-secrecy, made a mistake in connecting an adoptee with his biological family.
More than three decades after Ryba and Butler gave up their baby son to Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J., for adoption, and four years after the agency facilitated their “reunion” with Bloete, genetic testing revealed last year that none of them are related.
Lisa Thibault, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Trenton, acknowledged that the situation is “tragic,” and that a “mistake” was made somewhere. But she said the agency has done all it is legally able to do for them.
I’m sure CC charged a hefty fee for this botched “reunion”. That’s how confidential intermediaries work: You pay, they supposedly search and find. But the problem is, there are no checks and balances to ensure that you get what you paid for.
I’ve written extensively about my own experience with Illinois’ confidential intermediary program (here and here), which remains the only state-sanctioned method by which adult Illinois adoptees may attempt to gain access to their records. The word “confidential” is a euphemism for “hiding in the shadows”. Their policies and procedures are secret; even participants are not allowed to know what is done on their behalf. Which means if mistakes are made, you might never find out about them. In my case, my identifying information was given to my birth mother without my consent… meaning their policies are more confidential than the privacy of participants. What does that tell you about the priorities of such programs? It’s a back-door method of making more money off adoptions. Seal the records, then charge later for access to those very same records. It’s not commonly known by the general public but everybody in the adoption reform community knows how the game is played.
Cases like these are exactly why entire concept of confidential intermediaries needs to be chucked. Why should we trust third parties to act on our behalf when we have no way to verify their actions? Sealing adoption records and falsifying birth certificates only breeds these kinds of mistakes, and provides fertile ground for profiteering. Instead, all birth certificates should bear the truthful information of one’s origins, with adoption certificates verifying the facts of the adoption, and every single adult in this country, adopted or not, should be able to obtain their original, unaltered birth certificate for the same minimal fee. I spent thousands of dollars trying to get my records, just as these people have spent thousands trying to accomplish what Catholic Charities should have done in the first place.
We need to abolish confidential intermediaries in favor of open adoption records.
See also:
And let’s note that reformers in New Jersey have been fighting to open adoption records. There’s a petition here if you want to sign it to help the cause.